Hmm. Interesting thought. I suppose it’s a “retromania” kind of question.
To judge by Twitter (or at least my Twitter feed, admittedly not representative of very much), people do seem to like watching old episodes of TOTP. I guess it's got “crap TV” value (value-less to me, but anyway) and the “deeper” pop-historical appeal of seeing Dave “Kid” Jensen or Kenny Everett or whoever presenting (“Oh brilliant, it’s Peter Powell” = immediate scoff-factor pleasure, but probably accompanied by a frission of something more sincere: “Wow, he looks so young …”). And, oh yeah, it’s got some music.
You can obviously get a lot of the TOTP music clips from YouTube any time you like, but I imagine the bulk of Top Of The Pops 2 watchers are 30-50-somethings who like a nice big dollop of “fun” TV. Stuff that they can, if they’re so inclined, “Event TV” tweet about for a few extra kicks. It’s an hilarious win-win situation, with added Abba.
OK, maybe I’m indulging in a bit of supercilious smuggery myself. (Heaven forbid). Yes, I’ve got to admit I do dislike the idea of these programmes (the knowingness - probably the cynicism - of the programmers who schedule them). “Let’s put a whole load of Top Of The Pops from the 70s on. All the ‘middle youth' types! They’ll lap it up.” Lap lap.
But this is a music blog (if it’s anything!) so I’m not going to totally diss a programme featuring music, some of it even reasonably OK music (though not much). Yeah, fine, you can get to see three minutes of The Rezillos or something, and that’s worth seeing.
Seeing it 35 years after the fact, though, is a whole different thing to seeing it when the song was actually new. Strip away the supposed pleasure of looking back at these shows “ironically” - or at least with decades of hindsight - and all you’ve really got is a bunch of middle-aged people watching mostly mediocre music from when they were teenagers. It’s like your mum and dad in the 1970s barging you out of the way so they could switch TOTP over to watch a programme about Glenn Miller or the Joe Loss Orchestra. But somehow worse. It’s now being done behind the protective veil of 21st-century jokiness.
Years ago, when I worked in a record shop, a CBS Records company rep once complained, in all seriousness, about The Clash’s policy of refusing to appear on Top Of The Pops. “It’s ridiculous”, he said. “If they just went on once this [their new record] would get into the top 20. No-one cares about being a ‘sell-out’ now. No-one even knows that they refuse to go on”. Blimey - it’s all raw commerce, innit? (And fair enough, at least the decades-later re-runs are not the crude marketing tool of the original shows).
My 20-year-old self was, I have to admit, vaguely impressed by Strummer & Co’s CBS-bothering intransigence, but now I couldn’t much care either way. Not going on TOTP? Wow. Revolutionary. Actually, the fact that you’re apparently safe from stumbling upon The Clash during TOTP re-runs almost makes me want to watch them …